Monday 26 July 2010

Review: Off Road To Everywhere by Philip Gross

I will be honest: I am neither a child, nor am I a habitual poetry reader. So I am a little surprised to find myself reading - and really adoring, a book of poetry that is written primarily for a young audience.

Off Road to Everywhere wants to grab children and tell them it's okay to play around with words. It's good to have an imagination, and wonderful to use it. It's okay to be a little silly sometimes - but also okay to be serious. It is a book written with genuine, heartfelt affection for children, for words, for the rythm and music of language, for poetry and creativity. It's a book that, in no uncertain terms, declares that using one's imagination is a great adventure. It's probably the most life affirming book of poetry I've ever read - but admittedly, I don't read many.

As an adult, I do wonder whether I should put this book into the "guilty pleasure" category. After all, shouldn't I be all grown up and read poems that have dozens of layers, without resorting to something as simple as musical language or rhymes or, heaven forbid, humour? Ach, who cares. Give me a poem that mentions "the 100 watt light / might look happy and bright / but it may be afraid / to be switched off at night" any day.

Which is not to say that the book is not poignant or serious. It does have its grim moments and its sad moments. This is not a book that talks down to children. But neither is it a book that talks up above people. (The thing that puts people - or rather, me - off poetry is that so much of it feels as if it is written primarily for the appreciation and consumption of other poets, so consumed with the need to be art that it sometimes forgets that entertainment, too, can be a worthy aim.)

As an introduction to poetry, this is lovely. Whether rhyming poetry, free verse, narrative poetry, or poetry that uses up the area on the page in creative ways, you can all find it here. As a book about creativity and the power of imagination, it is a magnificent achievement. As a source of laughter, joy, and poignancy, the book works beautifully. In short, if all poetry were like this, well, I would be a much more regular reader, and much less reluctant to pay for a thousand words sprinkled in a thin volume a similar price to a 100,000 word novel.

Rating: 5/5